“That level looks old!”

I was just reminiscing using the “way back machine” perusing the news I wrote while I was the Head Monkey at the AQMD (Action Quake Map Depot) back in 1999-2000. I can still remember receiving the e-mail from Death Magnet telling me he was stepping down and was handing the “reins of power” over to me. LOL.

While I cannot find the exact day, I still vividly remember the day I stepped down from the AQMD because I felt I was not fulfilling my position as the Head Monkey and my interests were moving to Quake III, in search of the “next action.” That turned out to be Urban Terror and my time and work at the AQMD became history.

A part of me wanted to leave the AQMD because the Quake 2 engine was getting dated and levels were looking old. Even new levels were retreads of old ideas and very few level designers were bringing something new to the table in terms of development. I guess I can’t fault them, but why anyone would spend months working on a level that will be tossed in an ever growing pile of already “official” AQ2 levels was beyond me. I guess each individual had their reasons.

Just the other day I had an ill feeling when I looked at some new images of a level in development for Urban Terror. Just like the day I left the AQMD, that feel returned, when the first thought was “that level looks old.” Now, I know the Quake III engine is dated, just as Urban Terror is. But even with this engine it is possible to up the level of quality before releasing a level.

Some level designers have stated they won’t spend the time taking their level to the proverbial, “next level” for numerous reasons. First, it’s too much work. Okay, I’ll give you that reason, to a point. Level design and development is nothing but work. Why half ass your work? Part of level development is improving and learning, working with techniques that will improve your skills and level. I don’t understand releasing a level that looks like it’s from 2000, when it’s 2008.

Second, there is always a chance your level will not be played. The reasons vary; FPS, poor layout or game play, or those asshats who just say, “it sucks” without reason, just to name a few. While many level designers understand this before diving head first into their levels, some don’t. After spending months and months, possibly even years on a level that last thing you want it no one playing your level. But to admit defeat before you even start is setting yourself up for failure.

I know the “basics” of level design, but I am no expert when it comes to what some in the Urban Terror Community create. I will cite INVIS, who is a consummate professional, maybe too much so when it comes to his levels. He understands level design from the inside out, knows the elements and how to construct them to create a successful and good looking level. WetWired was another Urban Terror level designer who was able to accomplish the same thing.

These are just two examples, but they worked at a different level than most other level designers. Their time, effort and persistence usually paid off. While I don’t mean to characterize other level designers as failures, I would like them to take a look at what levels have all the elements that make up a successful level. Above all other is game play, but this isn’t something that “just happens” this is something that is planned from day one. You can’t happen upon game play, you must create it.

While game play does reign supreme and is the foundation on which to build, you cannot ignore the other factors when level designing. I am hoping that some level designers understand what makes the good levels good and try to learn why another level not so good. Don’t only push the Quake III engine, but push yourself to rise above the mediocrity we see creeping into the levels that are played in Urban Terror.

Gamers Like Free!

I think we will all agree, “free” is a good thing. But what is the saying, “nothing in life is free.” Gamers ALWAYS want free stuff, from swag to energy drinks to computer hardware, nothing is off limits for gamers. If they can get their hands on it, without having to pay for it, they consider it a score!

I am thumbing through the February 2008 issue of Games for Windows and notice two pages in the Editor-in-Chief talking about free games listed in this issue of GfW. Of course my first thought it, ah cool Urban Terror is free (100% with the stand alone version) our game should be listed.

Well I could not be more surprised at the amount of crap they listed in the magazine as “free”, now I know why much of this software was free, because its absolute garbage! Okay, to be fair there are some games that appear to be interesting, but for the hardcore and even amateur gamer, most will not play these.

We must also take into account that Quake III Arena is dead and very few pay any attention to this game or any mods. The magazine lists a GTA mod, a Half-Life mod, a Battlefield 2 mod and a Command & Conquer mod as some of the “free” games to download. I won’t rush to judgment here, but why the hell is Urban Terror NOT included? Oh yeah, I just said why, it’s Quake III and that game is dead.

It’s unfortunate too because this would have been very good exposure for the game, considering how complete it is after nearly 9 years of development. It is strongly supported by the development team and community that continues to play the game regardless of how old the engine is.

So what’s our recourse here? Well, do as I do and piss and moan about it. Or you can write the editor and ask him, “Why the hell was Urban Terror not included?” In all fairness, I am sure there are many mods/games in our position (maybe) looking for a break. But I do feel the game was done an injustice. Out of curiosity I went to the GfW site and looked at the 101 Free Games of 2008. There was nada as it relates to Urban Terror.

Oswald Rant: From Beta 1 to Beta 2

With the Beta 2 release of Urban Terror by Silicon Ice Development [SID], the development team looks to forge ahead and give their community a mod that far exceeds the expectations of any gamer. Created using one of the most powerful gaming engines available, the Quake III engine by id Software, Silicon Ice looks to have a very successful realism based mod to rival any in the gaming community.

Beta 1 was released August 5, 2000, while members of the Silicon Ice Development team were attending QuakeCon 2000 in Mesquite, Texas. On an invitation from id Software, the team shared a booth with Quake 3 Fortress, as each took time preview and demonstrate their projects. SID and Urban Terror were still relative unknowns at the time and were following in the footsteps of some very popular mods with cult-like followings, in Action Quake 2 and the highly publicized and successful, Counter-Strike.

Since many of the team members were strangers to “modding” it was a challenge to know what sort of reception Urban Terror Beta 1 would receive upon its initial release. Those of us attending QuakeCon were quite pleased to see gamers swarming to the booth, waiting in droves and a chance to play the mod. Looking back on the release, there were some fundamental mistakes that could have been resolved, providing for a stronger initial release giving us a better reputation. Looking back on our Beta 1 release, we agreed not to make the same mistake in future development.

For those in the community who were around less than one year ago when Beta 1 was released, I am sure you have not only see, but experienced the difference while waiting in anticipation for Beta 2. Silicon Ice Development takes great pride in their community and the mod they have come to support. To us, it’s the gamers that make the community great. We have continued to ask for input, in the form of suggestions, features and changes that could make the mod more enjoyable. We also released the mod to a group of internal beta testers, who provided valuable feedback and quality assurance. This to supplement the countless hours of team based testing in order to work out many issues and problems.

Silicon Ice Development is the driving force behind the creation of Urban Terror, but the community measures just how successful it is. While SID had an idea, gamers never failed to voice their opinions. As a development team, we took an active interest and listened to what they were saying. We continued to interact with the community, on our forums, in IRC, on ICQ and even on public servers. We were continually answering questions and providing feedback over the last ten months, which culminated in the release of Beta 2. Of course the most common question on the community’s mind, “When is Beta 2 being released?”

There was one minor incident that sparked some controversy during our development. That was the unfortunate leak of an internal build to the community. Looking back, that event was probably a blessing in disguise, as gamers not chosen by SID had an opportunity to experience our work and get a hands on demonstration of what was in store for Beta 2. We did everything in our power not to recognize those who were experiencing the build, as it was an early version, not meant for the gaming public. Through the period of the leak, there were rarely any negative comments that were received by SID. This was foreshadowing of things to come with the release of Beta 2.

A major component of any release is an official release date, something SID was hesitant to recognize. We had delays during previous beta development that had us overshoot our target date. We were bound by blood not to make the same mistake twice, as it weakens the credibility and report we have with our community. We continued to give a developer’s answer, “The mod is ready when we are done.”

We offered an internal build to Caryn “Hellchick” Law of GameSpy Industries and 3D ActionPlanet and Robert Duffy, programmer for id Software. Caryn had provided us with the female voices in Beta 1 and provides great insight into the community with her work. SID offered her the opportunity to play test the mod with a few of the team members in order to get her opinion and to provide us with feedback, which she gracefully did. She has been a support, since her initial preview of Beta 1 over a year ago.

Robert Duffy has been our main point of contact at id Software. We have play tested numerous times and received positive feedback on our development. Beta 1 provided Silicon Ice a platform from which to build, they must have seen potential in our development, as we were invited to QuakeCon. They have provided valuable support and answers to our team as we look to keep a strong working relationship with them through development.

June 1, 2001 was a day in which our expectations were not only met, but also exceeded when we released Urban Terror Beta 2. We were taken back by the over 500 gamers awaiting the release in #urbanterror on Enter The Game. The mod was officially released at 5pm and gamers flocked to FTPs in an attempt to download this much-anticipated beta. Now, a week later, the total number of downloads has exceeded 50,000! Based on GameSpy Stats, Urban Terror has jumped from #8 to #3 in terms of popularity with between 500-800 gamers online playing since the release.

Support like this from a community starved for a mod to take advantage of the power of the Quake III engine has arrived. Urban Terror Beta 2 has received overwhelming support and praise though out our community forums. A tough group to crack, the Shackers had many positive comments over at Shacknews. We feel very fortunate to be in the position we are since our release. We are already drawing up plans for our post Beta 2 development, which will include a multitude of bug fixes and additional maps in the coming weeks.

Silicon Ice Development would like to say thank you to everyone in our community for the patience and support for Urban Terror Beta 2. Be proud to know that you have had a hand in creating one of the best Quake III mods around.